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Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Ethicist" Visits Fort Worth

I think we can all agree that the massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda and the German Holocaust were wrong. But not every ethical question is as clear, and that's where Randy Cohen's New York Time's column "The Ethicist" came in. 

Is it ever OK to lie to your child? What if you're protecting him/her? Cohen tells a group of Cowtown gals last week, yes, it is OK sometimes. 

How important are ethics in today's society when Wall Street giants are dumping on Main Street midgets, Northern Africa's leaders are being exposed and politicians private lives seem more and more inconsistent with their lives of public service?

Cohen helped keep ethics relevant in today's secular world for 12 years, but he isn't actually an ethicist by training. He has never received a degree in philosophy or psychology. Rather he was a three-time, Emmy-award winning writer for the Letterman Show and funny guy.

"I was an accidental ethicist," Cohen said. "Cat Fancy magazine isn't written by a cat."

But I think those who read his column every Sunday at the breakfast table with their family would say he has helped explain why some things should or shouldn't happen. The lack of credentials may have worked to his advantage — he was able to lean on experts for advice, remain humble and approach each situation with an open mind. The word he used was "raw."

He said he typically didn't need to tell people what was the right or wrong thing to do, rather his job was to tell them why they shouldn't do things like shoot their dog because it barks all night and urinates on couches. People generally have an instinctual knowledge about what they should do, but he said they need help to understand how they got there.

Cohen said he never heard from giants such as Bernie Madoff in all of his years as "the ethicist." He said those who needed the most ethical advice never usually ask.

"The people most in need of being beaten up are always enormous," he said. The room roared with laughter. It's so true.

 The New York Times gave the columnist's job to new writer a mere two weeks ago after twelve years clearing up muddy issues for people all over the world. But before Cohen moves on to his next chapter, he came to Fort Worth March 11 to speak to a Fort Worth group called the Lecture Foundation.

I got to meet Cohen after the speech and ask him a few questions about ethics. As a philosophy major I studied ethics a bit and really enjoyed his speech. I enjoy that I could have this intellectual experience in Cowtown thanks to the Lecture Foundation!